Hannah Howard CA

"After completing a degree in accounting and with a desire to build a strong career in finance, becoming a CA was never a question."

What is your current role?

I am currently the Group Finance Manager for My Food Bag, one of New Zealand's fastest growing companies and a trail blazer in the 'recipe-and-ingredient delivery service' industry in New Zealand. Starting with My Food Bag in the early stages of its life cycle has seen my role grow in breadth as the company grew. I am currently responsible for financial, compliance and management reporting & analysis on both sides of the Tasman, business partnering operational teams in strategy implementation and delivering key insights to the executive on business performance. Supporting My Food Bag grow to annualise nearly $100m in sales revenue per year has been an exciting journey and a privilege to be a part of.

Where do you see your career going? Where do you want to be in five years' time?

It's really important to me that throughout my career I continue to learn and grow, whether that be in terms of financial acumen or broader commercial strategy. Working hard and delivering value to My Food Bag has granted me opportunities to progress my career further within the company. The fast growth space is every-changing and ever-challenging, the perfect stomping ground to learn and grow. I really enjoying fostering the skills of others and down the track I'd like to lead a finance team that not only delivers accurate and timely financial information, but also supports strategy execution and adds value across all facets of the business as we do at My Food Bag. I'm thoroughly enjoying the FMCG space right now though I believe finance is a very fungible skill set and imagine I'll expand my experience across different industries in the future. I'm also mindful that I've not yet experienced the bigger corporate finance side so that may be on the cards at some point also.

How did you get to where you are today?

Finishing my Bachelor of Commerce with majors in accounting and commercial law set me up well for my first role out of University. I was an intern at Deloitte in my penultimate year of study and then took up a full time graduate position in the Deloitte Private Tax & BAS team. In my time at Deloitte, I had a broad range of clients from mid-market and large corporate to high net worth individuals. I worked with some brilliant people who fostered my development in compliance and complex consulting work. I've always had a thirst for knowledge, and Deloitte was a great environment to rapidly grow my skill base. It was during this time that I completed the Chartered Accountants Program and was signed off as a CA. After close to 4 years at Deloitte, I knew I wanted to take the leap and try out commercial finance. A few different opportunities came up and it was one of the partners in my team who encouraged me to hold out for a position with a company that was dynamic and offered significant growth opportunities. That's when the financial accountant role with My Food Bag came up. At that time, My Food Bag was garnering a lot of momentum and building a strong name for itself in New Zealand. In all honesty, I didn't tick all the boxes that the job ad required - but I applied anyway, which is something I encourage more women to do. I'm a quick thinker, a fast learner and had built a good network at Deloitte so I backed myself to be able to perform well in role. Luckily, the CFO at My Food Bag also shared this view and took me on board. Since then, I've worked hard, built strong relationships with the wider team at My Food Bag, supported the integration of the finance team as effective business partners and delivered on numerous projects which have enabled me to progress from Financial Accountant, to Trans-Tasman Finance Manager to Group Finance Manager. I've also ensured I maintain a grounded view in what constitutes effective communication of financial results - making them interesting, whether that be via infographic or some other engaging way. How you bring other people on the journey with you determines your effectiveness.

Why did you choose to become a CA?

After completing a degree in accounting and with a desire to build a strong career in finance, becoming a CA was never a question. CA ANZ have built a reputable designation that is sought after and well respected amongst finance professionals. I knew that in completing the CA Program, I'd gain valuable skills that would put me in good stead and that I could leverage off throughout my career. Not only that, in completing the program while working, I'd be able to integrate the knowledge into my day to day work and fast-track my career progression.

How has being a CA helped/changed your life?

Being a CA was pivotal in getting me to my position as Group Finance Manager of My Food Bag. It taught me to be curious, to be resourceful, to challenge the status quo, to learn about business and not just finance. It's provided me with many opportunities to date and will no doubt provide me with many opportunities in the future. Becoming a CA is not about learning what the numbers are, but why they are what they are. Value-add is what makes a finance professional good, and the CA program really develops these skills.

Any advice for those considering following the CA path?

Being a CA adds instant credibility to your portfolio of skills, and shows that you have a desire to be a life-long learner. Speaking from experience, it's big tick when recruiting new members of our team. Becoming a part of the CA family means you have on-going access to a range of professional development opportunities and will always have a broad network of support. In short, my advice would be to get into it!

* This interview was conducted in 2014. Hannah Howard CA has since become Commercial Business Partner - Customer Operations & Enablement, Vodafone New Zealand.